By: Graham Womack
Tom Frame sat in a north Roseville fast food restaurant, a fresh bandage on his left arm.
After many years of consideration, the 72-year-old Sun City Roseville resident had just gotten his first tattoo, a depiction of “End of the Trail,” a Waupun, Wisconsin sculpture showing a dead Native American slumped on a horse.
“I finally said, ‘The end of trail ain’t very far off for me, so I might as well go for it,’” Frame said.
In increasing numbers, Frame and other seniors are getting their first tattoos, emboldened by broader societal acceptance of body ink.
“I’d say at least once or twice a day, I get someone over the age of 50 I’m doing their first tattoo on,” said K.J. Sarro, a tattoo artist at Wild Bill’s in downtown Roseville.
Some customers getting their first tattoos are retired like Frame, who managed a commercial tire store in Red Bluff and worked in recent months as a handyman for a Placer County nonprofit, Seniors First.
With Frame and his wife of 53 years living mostly on Social Security these days, he saved for his tattoo from his handyman work, paying $140 with a $20 tip to Sarro.
He probably could have gotten a tattoo sooner, with the tire store and Seniors First having no prohibitions. In general, it’s become less of a societal faux pas for people to have tattoos, allowing them to do something they might not have 30 or 40 years ago.
Sarro’s certainly had the conversation with enough clients.
“That’s one of the first things they talk about, that it was taboo when they were younger,” Sarro said.
Still, Frame thought long and hard before getting his tattoo. So did Randy Peters, 64, who did corporate work in his 30s for the restaurant industry in Southern California and wouldn’t have dreamed of getting a tattoo back then.
“In the ‘80s, you didn’t do that,” Peters said. “Business people didn’t do that.”
But eventually, Peters and his wife Lisa made their own way in the food service industry, founding a series of business concerns in the South Placer region.
He begin thinking about getting a tattoo around age 55, finally getting his first one at 59. Now 64, Peters estimates he has between 40 and 50 tattoos.
Peters knows what people might be thinking, anticipating an easy question before it’s asked.
“Am I going through a mid-life crisis? No,” Peters said. “I just love the color. I love the creativity.”
Peters caters to a fairly conservative crowd, with his and his wife’s downtown business, Randy Peters Catering, already hosting monthly meetings for the Roseville Area Chamber of Commerce. Peters is often buttoned up and in semi-formal attire at these events, with no visible tattoos.
But catch him in short sleeves on a warm summer day and it’s like encountering a different man, both arms covered in tattoos. He said his first tattoo, a woman’s hand holding a strawberry dipped in chocolate, covers both of his nipples.
He has tattoos of pancakes, prime rib and bacon; Asian lettering that reads “servant’s heart”; and much more.
“It is all personal,” Peters said. “It’s what you feel you want for your body. It’s no different than being a bodybuilder.”
Lisa Peters raised no objections when her husband presented his tattoo plans.
“Her attitude was, ‘If that makes you happy, that’s cool with me. I’m cool,’” Randy Peters said. “I asked her, ‘Would you ever consider getting one?’ She said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Lisa smiles when asked about her husband’s tattoos, saying, “I’ve learned to like them. They are art.”
Tattoos for soup
Many who get their first tattoos in advanced age are men, though there are women among the ranks as well.
Joshua Teska, a tattoo artist at DV8 Tattoo and Body Piercing in Roseville, recalled a woman over 80 who’d never been inked getting a full arm’s worth of tattoos of flowers from her garden.
Teska admitted it took a long time to complete the piece — “You have to kind of slow the machine down depending on the age of the skin,” he said — and that older skin can tear if it’s stretched for a tattoo.
But he and Sarro don’t seem too apprehensive about working with older clients.
“If they’re willing to go bid and they think they can sit, I won’t ever turn them down,” Sarro said.
Teska tries to be flexible with older clients who might have trouble paying, saying he’s done tattoos in exchange for soup or pie for an older woman.
“They’re old,” Teska said. “They haven’t had a chance to experience (these) things.”
These people aren’t like 87-year-old Sun City Roseville resident Tom Luzader, who started getting inked at 19 and never really stopped. He got his most recent tattoo, barbed wire around his wrist, just five years ago. His wife of 59 years, Joyce didn’t mind the tattoos when she met Tom.
“I thought he was a hunk,” she said.
Tom can’t say the same for others, who have given him grief even in recent years.
“Some people are still so brainwashed,” he said.
Peters said there are various reasons people get tattoos late in life. Some, like Frame, want to immortalize something or someone from their past.
Seniors First Executive Director Jamee Horning said the older people with tattoos she’s encountered generally seem to fit that category.
“It’s not frequent but it’s occasional, and it’s usually the commemoration of an illness or the loss of a child,” Horning said.
For other seniors, though, getting tattoos is almost a new hobby.
“It’s like eating a Snickers bar,” Peters said. “You can never get enough.”